A new committee was unveiled Tuesday to take the lead on those efforts. It will be co-chaired by Marietta lawyer Justin O’Dell, an articulate and savvy veteran of past pro-SPLOST efforts; business consultant Dale Hughes of Kennesaw; and South Cobb Redevelopment Authority member Darhyl Watkins, who lives in the Smyrna/Vinings area and works as a global client advisor for the Oracle Corp. Serving as treasurer for the group will be Steve LaMontagne, a partner at Moore Colson.
“There’s the group of people that have supported (SPLOSTs) in the past and different working groups that have come together to support them. So, everybody begins talking about how we’re going to get the information out there to the voters,” O’Dell told the MDJ.
The group also has enlisted the services of political consultant Jeremy Brand, who ran Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee’s successful re-election effort in 2012 and who this spring played a similar role for District 1 Commission hopeful Bob Weatherford’s successful campaign for the GOP nomination.
The six-year special purpose local option sales tax would raise an estimated $750 million for Cobb County, much of it going for local road and transportation needs.
The pro-SPLOST group’s slogan will be “Secure Cobb’s Future,” and the three co-chairs put out a joint press release Tuesday that spelled out their position.
“The projects in the 2014 SPLOST are lean and necessary to secure Cobb’s future,” they stated. “This is an important opportunity to continue to do something positive for Cobb in regards to transportation, public safety and quality of life, and we cannot afford to let it pass us by.”
The new committee will have its work cut out for it. As those who follow local politics well know, SPLOST elections in Cobb typically are decided by razor-thin margins. The current tax was approved in 2011 by just 79 votes out of 43,000 cast. And the reapproval of the prior SPLOST in 2005 was just as dicey. It won by just a 117-vote margin out of 40,000 votes cast.
Critics say, with some merit, public officials here and elsewhere have become so reliant on SPLOST funding the tax should no longer be considered “special”; and say SPLOST lists often are padded with “wants” rather than being limited to “needs.”
Passage of a state law allowing for “split-penny” or fractional SPLOSTs would put pressure on local bodies to downsize the scale of their SPLOST programs, but the state Legislature has thus far refused to change the law to allow them. Thus, we’re stuck with the existing SPLOST setup, which is not without its advantages.
Not only do SPLOSTs do away with the decades-long costs to taxpayers associated with bonded indebtedness — and not only is a considerable portion of the SPLOST paid by non-residents who happen to pass through the county — it also spreads the cost of transportation improvements onto the very substantial portion of the Cobb population that does not pay property taxes but nonetheless uses the roads. The alternative to non-passage of the SPLOST, after all, would be to shift those costs into the General Fund budget.
There are other SPLOST arguments to be made as well, and we’re sure we’ll all be hearing plenty of them in the days between now and November.